Abbott, Davis spar over equal pay bill, law firm

WILL WEISSERT, Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – The candidates for Texas governor sparred over two separate issues Tuesday, with Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis insisting her opponent won’t commit to solidifying gender pay equality into state law and Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott firing back that Davis’ law firm may have profited from her work in the Legislature.

Davis co-sponsored a bill last year ensuring that Texas law mirrored gender wage protections included in the 2009 federal Lilly Ledbetter Act. The Texas measure passed with bipartisan support, but outgoing Gov. Rick Perry vetoed it, saying federal statues made state law on the subject repetitive.

Davis rejects that argument, saying it would have given women more flexibility to sue in state courts and avoid lengthier and costlier federal discrimination cases. Abbott, meanwhile, says separate state statutes already prohibit gender discrimination and has refused to say if he’d veto a similar state Ledbetter Act as governor.

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“Greg Abbott is all about keeping Texas in the past,” Davis said during a media conference call.

She said 400,000 Texas households are headed by women and cited 2012 census data showing women statewide are paid roughly 82 cents for every dollar men earn for comparable work.

The issue flared up after an interview with WFAA TV in Dallas, when Abbott was asked about equal pay protections and cited other state law prohibiting gender discrimination. He said that, as governor, he’d expect women to receive equal pay – but didn’t say whether he’d issue a veto like Perry’s.

Davis conceded Tuesday that gender discrimination is already forbidden by separate state statute. But she said that Texas only gives women six months from the beginning of their employment to sue for not receiving equal pay and that many don’t discover there’s a problem until much later.

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The federal Ledbetter Act changed the statute of limitations trigger date on federal cases, making the effective date whenever a woman discovers discrimination.

Davis highlighted a 2011 case in which a professor at Prairie View A&M University sued the state, alleging discriminatory pay, and Abbott defended the state as Texas’ top lawyer. Though the Ledbetter Act had changed federal law, the Texas Supreme Court dismissed the case on statute-of-limitation grounds, saying the new federal law didn’t alter state requirements.

“What this shows is that current law clearly does not offer enough protection for women and a Texas Lilly Ledbetter Act is desperately needed,” Davis said.

Abbott spokesman Matt Hirsch declined comment on the issue Tuesday. Instead, he released a statement criticizing Davis’ Fort Worth law firm for representing public-sector clients while she works in the Legislature and runs for governor.

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That charge comes after Davis’ release last week of a list of her public-sector clients, which included the North Texas Tollway Authority – even as she cast votes on toll-road legislation.

“Senator Davis was sent to Austin to work on behalf of Texans, but it appears the person who profited the most is Senator Davis,” Hirsch said.

Davis has denied any conflicts of interest